Cousins Evan and Rafe Malach have created A Simple Twist of Faith, a folk-rock musical that will debut at the Kiever Shul in Kensington Market this summer at the Toronto Fringe Festival.
The play is set during World War I at a synagogue in Germany. As the chazzan chants a prayer to welcome the Sabbath, an Allied soldier wanders into the sanctuary causing quite a stir among the worshippers.
Alex Lurye, played by Adam Jesin, is an American Jew, who has been traumatized by the war and is desperate to make a spiritual connection. He is befriended by Evan Malach’s character, Herr Rosenau, a local Jewish congregant, who invites the soldier to his home for Shabbat.
The ensuing plot, which is inspired by a true story, revolves around the lives of these two Jewish men. Alex returns to America, marries and starts a family. His business survives the Depression, but in Nazi-run Germany, the outlook for Herr Rosenau and his family is grim.
One of the most unusual aspects of A Simple Twist of Faith is the venue of the performance. The scene in the German synagogue is performed in the sanctuary of the Kiever, where one of the shul’s two chazzanim Pinchus Gutter and Menashe Solomon will take turns participating in the musical by reciting prayers from the bimah.
The three acts of the production take place in different locales of the synagogue. A mysterious fiddler played by violinist Sonia Shklarov will lead the audience to the various settings as the story progresses. Naomi Tessler is directing the production.
Malach, 29, a regular at the Kiever, says he thought the shul would lend itself well to a theatrical production. “I’d been trying to do a site specific musical.”
When he went on a heritage retreat in Montana last summer, he heard the story of Alex and Herr Rosenau. “It stuck with me.”
In the fall, he teamed up with his cousin, now a lawyer, to write the songs for A Simple Twist of Faith. “Evan had the idea for the show,” says Rafe, also 29. “The musical was a big endeavour, but I convinced him to go forward. I thought it was a great idea and I was really excited to do the project with him.”
Evan Malach wears several professional hats. Not only is he a singer/songwriter and actor, but he is the program co-ordinator of arts and culture at JUMP (Jewish Urban Meeting Place) and he is also studying to be a cantor.
He graduated with a music and history degree from McGill University. He co-wrote an earlier rock musical, In Adequacy, which was presented at the 2007 Toronto Fringe Festival. He went on to study acting in New York City and later released two CDs – What Still Could Be and Along the Endless Highway.
He is also 2012 winner of the Hallelujah Global Jewish Singing Contest.
A Simple Twist of Faith is the inaugural production of HOW (Harmony Over War). Evan created HOW, which is connected to the 100th anniversary of World War I, to promote an anti-war message.
He points out that the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, which set off World War I, took place on June 28, 1914. “It’s important for Jews to remember this history. Music and culture and theatrical stories is a great way to do that.”
A Simple Twist of Faith will be presented 12 times during the Fringe Festival, which runs from July 2 to July 13. For performance times and a list of other events visit fringetoronto.com